This greeting was not like the one they'd enjoyed in Rackarn. They were greeted with gruff neutrality and a little suspicion—in other words, exactly what they were used to.
His name was Bismuth and he welcomed them, grudgingly, to New City, not to be confused with Far New City, the neighboring town a few miles farther from The Old City, or Late New City, the smaller town on the other side of The Old City. Similar to their arrival in Rackarn, many citizens of New City gathered around, on the sides of the street and behind Bismuth, to hear the first interview with the two strangers.
In answer to the questions Feldspar and Gypsum, after naming themselves, admitted that they were from Groakpod on the other side of the Ironcut Mountains. None of the citizens of New City had ever heard of it, which was no surprise. The real curiosity was that the two were so well, so uninjured, so impossibly unscathed. Bismuth asked that question directly but the twins shrugged and expressed puzzlement at the question. Why wouldn't they be unscathed?
"Where did you camp last night?"
Gypsum answered first, but then Feldspar answered the next and they alternated after that.
"A campsite near the river and where the road splits. The spot looked like it had been used many times before."
"Did you set traps or alarms around the perimeter?"
"No. Should we have?"
Bismuth did not answer the question, but continued his inquiry.
"So what did you do?"
"We pitched camp, set up our tents, caught some fish, cooked them and ate them, then shortly after Shul deserted the sky we lay down to sleep."
"And then in the morning we woke up. What else would we do?"
"You had no visitors in the night?"
"We did see footprints around the tents in the morning, so it would seem that we did, though they must have moved very silently. But they did not bother us. We supposed someone might have been looking to rob us."
"But when they discovered we had nothing of any value, they must have decided to withdraw."
There were mutters of disbelief and wonder among the crowd. A very old man who had stationed himself behind and to the right of Bismuth spoke for the first time.
"You are not telling us the truth."
"We have said nothing that was not true. We will swear an oath if you wish."
The old man looked at them with narrowed eyes, but a grimace that passed as a reluctant smile.
"But not the whole truth, eh?"
"Does anyone ever tell the whole truth and not regret it later?"
"A fair point," Bismuth conceded. "I assume you are on a journey to find mates?"
"Among other things."
"Then you are welcome. But know at once that our women are not acquired cheaply. You will have to earn their company, even assuming you find ones that you want and they feel the same.
"For now, we will gift you this one day and night with a place to sleep. After that you will have to pay for your accommodations with gold, silver, or trade."
The twins bowed their respect. "We thank you for your welcome and your generosity." Gypsum looked around at the crowd. One very attractive female caught his eye, and her body language made it clear that he had caught hers as well.
"We do have questions, but would like to put them in a more private setting, if you understand."
For the first time Bismuth allowed his expression to soften into something resembling amusement.
"As well you should. Follow me and we can have that conversation while we get you established in your temporary shelter."
Hearing this, the crowd reluctantly dispersed. Gypsum noticed that the most reluctant were two very attractive girls that were clearly not sisters. One was the female he'd exchanged glances with earlier. The other was one that clearly had established a similar understanding with Feldspar.
Perhaps the first part of their quest was achieved. How much and how long would the second part require?